Meryl Streep and The Pocket Knife

The other night I dreamed that I was watching Meryl Streep while she mourned the death of her lover, Robert Redford, who had died in a plane crash. (No, I hadn't fall asleep watching Out of Africa.) In the dream, Meryl goes to the reading of Robert Redford's will. He leaves to her one item: his pocket knife. She holds it as if she has found the greatest treasure on earth.

What was the pocket knife about? In the dream it seemed to symbolize the need to cut away anything unnecessary so as to live more fully. A pocket knife is incisive, yet it had an almost benign or humane quality about it, much like pruning sheers that pare down in order to spur new growth.

Each of us has a sense of calling, an invitation from within to live truer and bolder. Few of us need to be told what that is. Just a few minutes of honest sharing with a loved one about what we truly desire will easily reveal it, and we will likely hear ourselves saying what we already know.

We know the way forward. What we lack is wholeheartedness. We lack a fierce commitment to what we know resonates with our being because it seems too costly, lonely, scary or unpredictable. We lack a "pocket knife" to prune away anything, even good things, that keep us from coming fully alive.

What is your true north? What keeps calling you? What must you prune away in order to move forward with a whole heart?  

Sometimes what we most need is not another epiphany but a pocket knife.

Harry Potter to the Rescue!

I had a dream last night in which I was Harry Potter. In the dream I surprise the rest of the students when I fly without a broom. I decide to no longer hide this ability. When a malevolent, Draco-like student threatens Hermione, I swoop in and whisk them both away to resolve the conflict. Meanwhile the other students and professors join ranks to protect Hogwarts. Their focus is to venerate the horcruxes because, left untended the horcruxes would give rise to the dark lord. Apologies to anyone reading this who is not a Harry Potter geek. Harry Potter is the young wizard who with his friend Hermione battles an evil wizard who has spun off parts of his soul into objects called horcruxes. As I sat with the dream this morning, I went deeper and deeper until I got to two core themes, or horcruxes, that needed attention (veneration) so that they don't lord it over me. Those themes are abandonment and shame.

When I mess up, some part of me fears I'll be  rejected because of the error (abandonment). Another part of me takes it in as further proof that I'm a bad person (shame). And one other part of me tries to avoid these feelings altogether by being defensive: blaming others for what happened, making reasonable excuses, overcompensating by trying to be hyper-good, etc.

What I take from the dream is a way to hold all of this: with vulnerability. Be vulnerable enough to admit my error. And be truthful: this mistake says nothing about who I am. I'm neither good nor bad. I'm a human being who is learning how to integrate his virtuous and non-virtuous tendencies. I also admit my tendency is to go straight to shame when I make an error. Acknowledging this horcrux makes it less likely to become my lord.

As I sat with the theme of abandonment, I thought of Jesus. His friends and followers abandoned him when their expectations were not met and when his life path became treacherous. Among his final words were: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Perhaps there is no fear greater than that of being abandoned. No wonder part of me wants to manipulate and finagle circumstances to avoid that possibility...or even the fear of it.

Yet as I sat with it, a deeper peace arose. Knowing that Jesus (and for that matter the rest of humanity) shares my experience, I no longer felt alone. When we lean into how vulnerable we are as individual human beings, we realize how alike and interconnected we are. Shared vulnerability dissolves isolation, the fear of abandonment, and the lie of shame.

Moreover, by paying attention to my own fear of abandonment, I felt cared for, honored, and accompanied…by myself. I no longer felt abandoned. I had shown up for myself and realized I would never be alone. I am with me. (I also sense that a Sacred Presence is with me to support this process.) I integrate those virtuous and non-virtuous parts of myself into one human being, neither hero nor villain, neither all good nor all bad. I'm simply human, vulnerable, a mixed bag of altruistic and selfish, wholesome and devious, just like everyone else.

The alchemy of vulnerability transmutes shame into self-acceptance, fear of abandonment into self-love, all of which then ripples outward to embrace every other flawed human being with a bit more compassion and openness. Some call this salvation. Others call it grace. I call it magic.

Mr. Chawbridge and the Duesenberg

I had a dream last night. My partner Herb and I were at my grandparents' house. A man whom I had never seen before, Mr. Chawbridge, was on a riding lawn mower cutting the grass. Apparently he had been doing this ever since my grandmother's death in 1985. We chatted awhile. He asked about a car in his garage, a "Duesenberry", which belonged to my father. He implied that he'd like to have it as payment for mowing the grass all these years. That seemed fair, but I also wanted to find out the value of "Duesenberry" before giving it to him. Upon waking I started playing around with the dream. For one thing, I wanted to know what  a "Duesenberry" was. The classic luxury car was a Duesenberg. Duesenberry was an American economist who posited that poor people spend a higher percentage of their income on goods/services (the consumption economy) than do wealthier people, and even when their lot improves they continue to spend at a higher rate. Thus, according to his theory, improving the financial standing of the poor gives the overall economy a boost.

I also reflected on my grandparents, whose house always felt like home. I went there every day after school and spent most of my summers there. Dogs. Gardens. Building birdhouses. Amazing food. Board games. The memories are sweet and many. I knew I was loved and accepted there fully and unconditionally.

What about "Chawbridge"? Chaw... to chew. What was I chewing on? What was chewing on me? How was chewing or being chewed on a bridge forward? And what did this have to do with Duesenberg/Duesenberry or my grandparents? Or was all this just a meaningless response to our restless cat who was keeping me awake part of the night?

Dreams unfold one layer after another, deepening over time. One layer is that I'm returning to a safe place and am recovering my sense of happiness...ease...that it's all good...that I'm good. What had been chewing on me was a nagging sense that I'm not very worthwhile, in fact, that life itself is not good enough.

The bridge forward is sinking my teeth into how I felt when with my grandparents. They embraced every atom of my being. Around them I felt and still feel wealthy. LIfe's abundance, all that really matters, is in me, around me and overflowing. I am so full I can give without fear or resentment simply because it's who I am and how I want to be...and because I have so much excess joy, what else is there to do but share it?

The universe is generous. My grandparents were generous. I too am generous, or at least I cross a bridge into generosity when I practice gratitude...Gratitude for my talents, my joys, my unique ways of being magnificent and human, my flaws that on occasion prove useful, the blessings of people and animals who have touched my life, and for the Presence of a Mysterious Intelligence that communicates through winks, dreams, meows, and root beer floats shared with my grandfather on a hot summer day.

What have you been dreaming?

A Broken Record

I had a dream a few nights ago. In the dream I am in charge of the Academy Awards. The show is about to start. I've entrusted the opening music to my mother. She plays the wrong song! I hear Bing Crosby's "White Christmas", and she's playing it on an LP, scratch vinyl! I frantically look through mounds of vinyl LPs for the correct song, which is Barbra Streisand's "Don't Rain on My Parade". I can't find it. I admit to those around me that for last year's show we used CDs for the first time. Suddenly, an obnoxious voice chimes in: "Why are you using vinyl? Who uses vinyl anymore, or even CDs for that matter? Why aren't there MP3s or other modern formats for your music? This is crazy!"

I ask those around me to make him shut up because I can't concentrate. Knowing the whole world is now watching and waiting, I keep shuffling through the vinyl LPs, hoping to find the right song. The End.

Here's what came to me as I played with the dream: A nostalgic "White Christmas" life, a fantasy existence, plays in my head like a broken record. That broken record says that my work should be like an idealized view of a past job. My friends now should make me feel just like beloved friends made me feel in college and young adulthood. The record skips from song to song,  replay old recordings about how community, work, a relationship, friendships, and even the divine should be. Why has my life not turned out to be the award-deserving triumph I envisioned?

I sensed that the deeper issue is the format, symbolized by vinyl LPs. They have deep grooves and ruts that are comfortable yet confining.  Digital recordings and live streaming are more flexible and adaptable. I don't need a new song, which would soon become its own broken record. I need a new format, a different context for listening to the music of my life.

The old format is one of comparisons, "should have been" and "ought to be".  Fantasies about the past become a broken record with which no current reality can compete, and I become too fogged with nostalgia or judgment to notice what's emerging around and within me.

An alternative is to savor the love available in real life here and now. This reality-based format is fluid, unpredictable and vulnerable. And yet the rhythm of goodness here is genuine and vivacious. All I need to do is feel the beat and move with it.

So, I thanked that obnoxious voice which I had tried to silence in the dream. I intend to come out of the nostalgic rut and savor my life here and now. Love...true, messy and omnipresent...is the only reality worth leaving nostalgia for.

What do you make of the dream? What do you relate to in it?

Waking Up to Your Dreams

I've had a series of interesting dreams lately. In one I am back in school, ready to graduate. A friend then reads my name from a list of people who have missing assignments. In spite of my protest that I have turned in everything, I have to go to the teacher and resubmit my assignments, including one which is disfigured beyond repair. After I walk away in disgust, the teacher admits to one of my fellow students that he had actually found my original assignments. I already had an "A", but this was the only way he could get to know his students. What does a dream mean? I take my dreams as messages from within and beyond that are prodding me toward self-awareness, wholeness and actions I need to take. I have numerous ways I work with my dreams. One way is to utilize the process below, which an amalgamation of dream classes I've attended. See which of the following practices might help you interpret a dream. I call them "Ten Steps Toward Understanding Your Dreams":

  1. Rewrite the dream in 1st person, present tense: “I am walking on the beach. He says…”
  2. Feelings. What feelings did you have during the dream? What feelings did you have when you awoke? What feelings do you have now that you are recalling the dream?
  3. Free association. Make a list of key images and actions in your dream. Write down your associations with each word. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Don’t try to interpret the images. This is free association. An orchid in the dream may remind you of grandma’s living room or of a trip to Japan.
  4. Puns, colors and imagery. Any puns? (A bee might represent the need to just “be”.) What is the predominant color(s)? What might it symbolize? (Blue for “the blues”?) Does an image in the dream represent part of your shadow/dark side? If so, what part?
  5. Key images. Notice which images have the most energy from the dream. Look up those images in a dream dictionary. Record anything that seems to resonate.
  6. Title the dream. Looking over your story and your associations, give your dream a unique and catchy title that would distinguish it from any other dream.
  7. Ask. “What is this dream trying to tell me about my life? What to know, change or do?” “How does this dream relate to some current circumstance in my life?” “Does this dream offer a message from the divine/Sacred/Mother Earth? If so, what do I sense that message is?”
  8. Walk the dream. Walk outside for a few minutes. Set the intention as you walk that any deeper wisdom from the dream would bubble up to conscious awareness.
  9. Summary of dream’s message. Review all that you’ve written and reflected on so far and complete the statement: My dream’s message seems to be…
  10. Gratitude. Thank your dreams and your subconscious for the message(s) received.

There are numerous other ways to work with a dream: draw it, turn it into a poem, pretend you are  conflicting characters in the dream and talk back and forth as each character until a sense of resolution or an "aha" emerges. The multi-layered meanings of a dream may continue to offer practical applications  to your waking life for many weeks, perhaps even years after the dream occurs.

Dreams can become valuable allies when we honor those that we recall by recording them and seeking the wisdom these messengers from the deep have to offer us. Sweet dreams!

P.S. Hypnosis can be viewed as a form of wakeful dreaming in which we access the full riches of the subconscious in service of our goals and aspirations. There is still time to register for Heal Yourself Through Hypnosis, a class on how to do self-hypnosis, which begins Monday, May 6. Click here for information and to register.